The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines for child passenger safety in April 2011, recommending children stay in rear-facing car seats until age 2. But a new report shows many parents turn their child’s seat to face forward before then

In May 2011, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents of children 7 to 48 months old about their use of rear-facing car seats. The study found 73 percent of parents put their child in a forward-facing seat before age 2; 30 percennt turned their child’s seat to face forward before age 1.

According to Dr. Michelle Macy at the University of Michigan Medical School, rear-facing car seats can prevent serious injury to children involved in front-end motor vehicle collisions. “When a child is sitting in a rear-facing car seat, the stopping forces are spread out over their entire back. The back of the car seat is a cushion for the child. However, in the forward-facing position, all of the crash forces are focused on the points of the body that come into contact with the car seat straps. The child’s head and limbs keep moving forward, pulling against the seat.”

Dr. Macy offers these tips:

  • Car seat instructions often say the seat can be used forward facing when the child is 20 pounds. Don’t use it facing forward if the child is still under the height and weight limits to continue riding rear facing.
  • Most children will outgrow a rear-facing infant carrier-style seat before their first birthday, but don’t turn the baby to face forward. Instead get a larger convertible car seat that can be used both rear facing and forward facing.
  • Newborns who weigh at least five pounds can use a convertible car seat in the rear-facing position. If money is tight, consider forgoing an infant carrier for a convertible car seat the child can use from birth into preschool.
  • Contact a car-seat inspection station to ensure you’re using your child safety seat properly. Enter your zip code at to find one nearby. Local inspection stations can also recommend community resources that offer assistance to parents in need of obtaining proper car seats.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration keep up-to-date information about child safety seats.
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a listing of child restraint laws across the U.S.

See the full report at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.